Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Mia, my wife, and I were getting ready to go to a birthday party, and I was feeling anxious. I knew that some people would ask, "Are you working or retired?" or "What are you doing these days? Do you have a job, yet?"
My anxiety was coming from a realization that in our society what a person does is more highly valued than who a person is. So, if someone does not have a job, is in transition or has an atypical job, this question can be awkward and embarrassing. It can even create a sense of shame and failure.
Often simple social situations give rise to awkward questions that, on the surface, seem innocent enough but, when examined more closely, actually reinforce the values of the Empire around us rather that the Kingdom of God.
"Where do you live?"
"Where do you live?" seems like a rather harmless question.
However, if you do not have a place to put your head at night, or if you are "surfing the couch" of family or friends, the question can be awkward and embarrassing, and even suggest shame and failure.
The question assumes that everyone has a place to live. The reality may be quite different. Increasingly in the world, including Canada, not everyone has a place to live. The question "Where do you live?" reveals, unintendedly, how a person's value is tied to a place. In fact, the larger the house, the more self-worth one should feel.
The Empire equates status with material things. However, in the Kingdom of God our status is derived from being created in the image and likeness of the Creator and in a relationship with the Father through the Son and the indwelling of the Spirit and with our relationships to the "other" –the outsider, the least, the marginalized.
“How are you doing?”
"How are you doing?" or "How are you feeling these days?" seem like reasonable questions.
But if the underlying meanings are, "Are you still sick?” or “Are you still using?" then these questions are awkward and embarrassing, highlighting shame and failure. No one wants to be defined by sickness or addiction.
We live in a society that bombards us with messages of how we should be disease free. We evaluate certain sicknesses through a moral lens, which allows us to blame the one who is sick and to justify a position that confirms people get what they deserve.
While the Empire identifies a person according to disease or addiction, the Kingdom of God declares people to be image bearers of the eternal, triune God.
Is there a better way?
Opening questions can be difficult, especially if you have just met the person. I think it is a good habit to reveal something of yourself before you ask others to share.
For example, I may say something like this: “Hi my name is Al and I grew up in the East side of Vancouver. What is your name and where are you from?” I might also say “When I'm not doing my chaplaincy work, I love to play my drums and hang out with my wife. Do you have any favourite things you like to do when you are not working?”
Sometimes awkward questions can actually lead to deep conversations, but my caution is to be aware of how they might harm.
If we are more aware of our neighbours, maybe the questions we ask can lead us to explore the image bearer, the one dearly beloved of God, and see God's creature - not simply the unemployed, the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted or the cancer patient.
Two Thoughts for Reflection
1.Has anyone ever asked you an awkward question? How did you handle it?
2. Was Jesus asked awkward questions? Did he ask awkward questions? Sometimes there is more to learn in a question than there is in an answer.
Al McKay is a Chaplain with Corporate Chaplains. Al's favourite part of his job is seeing Jesus in unfamiliar places of the Downtown East side in Vancouver. When Al was a kid, he wanted to be a teacher or a famous rock drummer when he grew up. If Al had a free afternoon, you'd find him spending time with his wife. One of his favourite Bible verses is Luke 7:44. You can reach Al at firstname.lastname@example.org